Texas Supreme Court Upholds Property Rights On West Galveston Beaches

The Texas Supreme Court has again landed on the side of property owners in a case involving beach erosion on the West End of Galveston Island. For the latest on what has been a big fight over who has right to public beaches wiped-out by storms.

The Texas Supreme Court had agreed to re-hear the case of several homeowners on Galveston’s West End who challenged the state’s Open Beaches Act after Hurricane Rita. The storm washed away enough beach that the homes ended up on what is considered public beach. The state claimed the Open Beaches Act meant the homes were now on public property. Earlier, the Texas Supreme Court sided with those homeowners, and now for a second time, has ruled their rights trump the State’s. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson says this sets a bad precedent.

“The case applied to the west end of Galveston Island, but it would have, someone else could argue the same points on another portion of the Texas coast.”

Patterson says the decision in effect ends the Texas Open Beaches Act because it weakens any claim the state would have under similar circumstances in the future.

“We’re going to have future storms and we’re going to have what the Court refers to as avolsive erosion, of course they didn’t define that. Whenever you have a storm that moves the public beach landward, then there is no more public beach, other than the wet beach, which you can’t put your towel on it because you’re in the tidal area.”

Bill Peacock is with the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“This result doesn’t surprise me at all. The Supreme Court said almost exactly the same thing this time that they did last time, that property owners have a right to have their properties protected even if they live on the beach.”

He says claims that the Open Beaches Act is now dead are simply hyperbole. He says the Texas Supreme Court ruled on a very specific case on Galveston Island.

“This has no effect on the Open Beaches Act. The Open Beaches Act merely codified common law and the Supreme Court looked today at those common law provisions and said, this is what they said, so the open beaches act is still alive and well and moving forward.”

The Open Beaches act states that a beach is open to the public up to the vegetation line. That line disappeared in the Galveston Island case and the state moved to condemn those homes.